Les livres de 2011: round 2

Oscar could read more if he would quit napping so much.
This morning I got an email from Chris' stepmom, Beth... she mentioned that her book club was reading Man Walks into a Room, a decision that was partially influenced by my blog! So awesome.

It's been a while since I posted book reviews and her email was enough to spark this next set. This group of books cover my main interests of late- notably running, Henry VIII and uncomfortable situations. Without further ado, away we go!

7. Pre by Tom Jordan
Tim, one of my colleagues at Arc, is a great resource for books to read. When I told him I was studying memory, he sent me a link to 101 Theory Drive. When I started running, he made a joke about Steve Prefontaine and I gave him a blank look. Blasphemous, apparently.

This is a quick read and, quite honestly, was kind of written like a middle school book report. But the basics are there and I definitely learned who Pre was, what he contributed to the running community, and got inspired to run on his trail in Eugene, OR during our honeymoon. Pre is one of the names to know if you're into running (or want to be into running).

8. The Tiger by John Vaillant
Alright. Picture this. I'm about to launch the Soul semester and I'm looking for books about dramatic and terrifying situations to put on the syllabus. As I'm poking around Amazon, I find this book and I watch the video by the author who talks about a man-eating tiger... and I'm hooked.

This book is about a TIGER who kills (and eats) a dude in Russia... and we later find out that it was premeditated! In fact, after he kills the man, the tiger starts hunting down the man's friends! Holy moly, I had some terrifying subway rides while reading this one.

I will add that there's a fair amount of side story about the history of Eastern Russia, the poverty and the relationship between the Russians and the Chinese. Sometimes that got a little dry. But then the tiger came back into the story! And I got scared again. Read this book!

9. The Age of Comfort by Joan Dejean
From tigers to 17th century Paris... ahhh, reading. Takes you so many places in the same week. This book is on the Soul syllabus and it was SO INTERESTING. Have you ever wondered why people made armchairs when wooden stools were perfectly functional? Have you ever wondered about a time before HANGERS EXISTED? This is your book.

I seriously learned so many fun facts in this book that I wanted to immediately attend 13 cocktail parties just to make conversation. Long story short, one of the kings in France started a trend towards private life when he built interior apartments at Versailles. From that stemmed bathrooms that were separate from kitchens, flowing and comfortable clothes (to hide his mistresses' pregnancies!), and couches whose fabrics were changed four times per year, based on the fashions of the season. Super, super interesting.

10. The Bitch in the House by Cathi Hanauer
Note to self: next time you take a leisurely vacation, do not read a book that will stir your blood. I picked this book up because it was the APW book club pick last month and, instead of feeling all lovey dovey about marriage, I felt rage. I was mad at the women who remained in terribly uneven relationships, I was mad at the men who sometimes took advantage of a woman's finances, and I was reaaaaal mad at society.

This book is a collection of essays about being a woman, wife, mother and beyond. I liked a few of the essays. Some were not particularly well-written. But overall, it was just too overwhelming for one book. By the 13th essay, I really wanted to say "DUDE. PUT A SOCK IN IT AND LEAVE YOUR MARRIAGE IF YOU'RE SO BUMMED OUT." So I think the moral of this story is moderation. No one needs to read 200 pages of tough marriage essays at the same time, especially when she is about to get married herself (and when she is somewhat opinionated).

11. The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen
Oh Jonathan Franzen. You are so famous. And yet! I had never read one of your books until this one. (Ok, I tried Freedom for a chapter, but couldn't get into it.) This was a nice little book of essays about growing up in Missouri, learning to find his way towards being a writer, and the death of his mother. I'm not sure why it's titled as it is. Maybe a nod towards his adolescence?

12. The Boelyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
Last year, my British friend Katie visited and left me a Philippa Gregory book as a gift for letting her stay with me. I was pretty obsessed with that book and spent a few days dreaming of myself in large, drafty halls and being named Queen of England. It was fiction, but it gave me some good basic knowledge of Henry VIII and his craziness.

Imagine my EXCITEMENT when I had dinner at Sarah's in London and I saw about 97 other Philippa Gregory books on her bookshelf. Not only did she pull this book off the shelf and give it to me, but she and Andrew recommended I visit Hampton Court, which is where Henry VIII lived with some of his wives.

This book is about the marriages of Henry to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. He didn't like either of them much (especially Anne), but it was Catherine who got the ole' beheading. This book was like junk food; delicious and easy to put away.

13. A Rope and a Prayer by David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill
I wrote about some of the excerpts of this book the other day. In short, this is the story of an American journalist who is kidnapped by the Taliban. He's held captive for 7 months; meanwhile, his new wife is in New York, attempting to run glamourous photo shoots with celebrities while she takes phone calls from the Taliban. And you thought your life was stressful!

This book was another one for my Soul semester, and I'm glad I read it. Some of David's sections went  pretty deep into the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan and that was all a bit over my head. But I could definitely relate to the emotional story being played out, which was one of relationships, survival and self-determination.

14. The Long Run by Matt Long
This book was not necessarily well-written, but the story was mind-blowing. A NY firefighter gets crushed by a bus while riding his bike and, 3 short years later, he's running a marathon. Despite the fact that almost all his organs were crushed and he had a ton of broken bones, he worked himself through rehab to get himself back to a life that he could at least recognize as his own.

An excerpt:
"And to run - to really run… meant being able to ever so briefly lift both feet off the ground at the same time with each step. Because technically that is running; that ability separates running from walking."
- p. 138

I loved this story of perseverance. It was such a breath of fresh air... what a human being this guy is! (In related news, he's going to be speaking at a running show I'm going to in April... can't wait to hear from him!)

15. Life After God by Douglas Coupland
And it all comes full circle back to Tim. One day Tim mentioned this book and when no one knew what he was talking about, he said "DOUGLAS COUPLAND!?!" and still no one knew what he was talking about and then he had a nervous breakdown. To comfort him, I ordered this book from the library.

It is SUCH a great read. It's not like anything you're going to expect. It's a short little book, full of chapters that are 1-4 pages long. It's a fictional story about a guy who's trying to do a bit of thinking in his middle age. Think The Perks of Being a Wallflower, except 30 years later and in Vancouver.

Here's an excerpt:

"Brent said, 'Hey- you're always interested in interpreting your dreams. Here's an idea- why not try something else. Why not interpret your everyday life as though it were a dream, instead. Say to yourself, 'A plane's flying overhead now- What does this mean?' Say to yourself, 'It's raining so much lately- What does this mean?' Say to yourself, 'Today I thought I had rediscovered Laurie- but it turned out it was someone else instead. What does this mean?' I think this makes life an easier thing. I really do."
- page 258

Wowza. I'm about to buy myself a copy of this, just so I can underline and write all over it. I'll probably pick one up for my brother too; I think he'd like it.


Tim Meaney said...

And now you know why I freaked out when a group of 20 people have never heard of Coupland!

audrey said...

ah coupland. you need to read all his novels now! awesome writer. I personall love generation x and microserfs, but they're all good.